Some accuse China of being an imposter and point to the fact that Chinese businesses often copy everything Western. Examples from this Business Insider article include fake IKEAs, “Wu” Marts, Obama Fried Chicken, Bucksstar Coffee, Pizza Huh, HiPhones…the list goes on. The Middle Kingdom has even been accused of even replicating famous paintings, military technology, designer goods, and much more.
OK, so maybe the reputation is deserved at times, but believe it or not, China has a long history of innovation. From gunpowder and paper to the compass and tea cultivation, all of these and more are ancient Chinese originals. But as you’ll soon discover, 21st century China isn’t necessarily synonymous with fakes anymore. Welcome to the world of Made in China 2.0, a new brand of Chinese innovation, not replication. Here are a few Chinese innovations to look out for:
1) Passenger Drones: Ehang, a Chinese company, has turned sci-fi into a reality. According to this article by Fortune, Ehang has created what will be the world’s first operational passenger drone. Fortune states that the UAE’s government has already approved the technological wonder for commercial use, while “Dubai’s Road & Transportation Agency plans to launch trips with the first fully-electric autonomous aerial vehicle drone starting this July .” China has beaten the world in not only passenger drones, but autonomous ones. Clearly, Ehang and China are at the front of the line with this awesome new technology.
2) WeChat Pay: You know you love it and can’t live without it. Of course, WeChat Pay, and even WeChat in general, definitely belongs on this list. There have been similar payment methods used before – like Apple Pay and Alipay (from another Chinese company) – but WeChat Pay excels since it incorporated the electronic money transferring device into a social media app. It makes paying friends and even complete strangers – from taxi drivers and scooter repair men on the street – as easy as one, two, three. I can even pay my bills and top up my phone credit with it! WeChat is definitely my favorite Chinese invention hands down.
3) Ride Sharing Bikes: China is a pioneer in the bicycle ride-sharing craze. A few years ago, the world was howling about companies like Airbnb, Uber and others paving the way for the world’s newfound “sharing” economy. In all this hype, governments and businesses around the world experimented with bicycle sharing programs, but they could never produce what the Chinese industry leaders did. Companies like Ofo and Mobike incorporate advanced technology to make their bike sharing programs much better and much more efficient. With GPS, a phone app, cheap/easy paying system, and air-less tires which reduces breakdowns (a common trait with rental bikes), China’s bike-sharing companies are amongst the best in the world and a model for all to follow.
4) Island Building Campaign: China isn’t the first country to reclaim land from the sea to expand the landmass of their country. The Netherlands and Singapore are masters at this. However, China is perhaps the first country in the history of the world to use an island building campaign as a military strategy for nation building. Look no further than the South China Sea. China has essentially claimed a large swathe of the ocean with a few uninhabited islands, built new ones that can support military bases, and demarked the entire area within a nine-dash line. No matter how controversial it may be, one cannot deny that it’s a brilliant, innovative strategy that’s so far been quite successful in expanding their empire. I can see a bunch of guys in the Pentagon scratching their heads saying, “Why didn’t we think of that?”
5) Alibaba: Alibaba is an incredible company. According to this Fast Company article, the Hangzhou-based firm is basically an eBay, Amazon and PayPal hybrid. But apart from mastering the combination of these three rival companies (which is quite innovative in and of itself), Alibaba is also coming up with revolutionary ideas in other arenas. The same source noted that Alibaba is now extending its reach into finance: Customers can “invest in a money market fund that usually nets higher returns than state-run banks’ interest rates,” contributing the equivalent 86 million USD the first year. Furthermore, “Yu Le Bao, a [Alibaba owned] crowdsourced film-investment fund that lets ordinary folks become movie producers,” is another way users are profiting in the age of technology with less risk. The great Alibaba seems to have its hand in everything these days.
6) Ghost Cities: Hey, we didn’t say all innovations had to be positive, did we? Ghost cities are as unique to China as Donald Trump is to the White House, and a true testament to China’s unique capitalist command style economy. The government implemented schemes to keep the GDP roaring at +10% per year, leaving local officials to creatively come up with ways to keep the numbers rising (read this Forbes article for more). They figured out that building structures, apartment blocks, airports, and even entire cities in the middle of nowhere increased GDP in their regions. In the short run, it worked – satisfying the central government with glittery statistics (and getting them a nice promotion in the process). But for the long run, it may need another healthy dose of Chinese innovation to solve this one…
As you can see, China is indeed unique. Whether militarily, strategically, technologically, or even economically, the Chinese despite having a few brands that are complete knock offs from Western entities are quite innovative in many ways.
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